Karl Anthony-Towns

Fantastic Four 2015

I can't think of one year where I was disappointed with March Madness, and this year was no different. Like always, the first two rounds are very cinematic, but now we are down to the FINAL FOUR teams. It will be an eventful final three games of the 2014-15 College Basketball season. 

#1 Kentucky Wildcats 

Road to the Final Four:

  • 2nd round - #16 Hampton 79-56 
  • 3rd round - #8 Cincinnati 64-51
  • Sweet 16 - #5 West Virginia 78-39
  • Elite 8 - #3 Notre Dame 68-66

The Wildcats are only two games away from completing their pursuit on perfection. For the first time this season, I actually believe that they will do it. The way they ended the Notre Dame game wasn't spectacular, game winning free throws by Andrew Harrison, but the block by Willie Cauley-Stien on the previous possession might have been the biggest play of the tournament. 

All season long people told me that they will finish undefeated and I said I'll believe when it happens, well I think I will have to become a believer. It's not that I don't want them to see complete the pursuit, I just think it is very difficult. The most important thing you need for to go undefeated is defense and the Wildcats are easily the best defensive team in the Final Four round. They got their first dose of a premier offense in Notre Dame, holding them to only 46% shooting. 

Kentucky's experience will also be important. This is Calipari's 4th trip to the Final Four in the last 5 years. The Harrison Twins, Cauley-Stien, and Dakari Johnson will play in their second straight Final Four, obviously looking to get that sour taste UConn left in their mouth. If they can complete this quest for 40-0, I will have to strongly consider if they are indeed the best team ever but as of now, I say no. 


#1 Wisconsin Badgers 

Road to the Final Four: 

  • 2nd round - #16 Coastal Carolina 86-72
  • 3rd round - #8 Wisconsin 72-65 
  • Sweet Sixteen - #4 North Carolina 79-82 
  • Elite 8 - #2 Arizona 85-78 

While Kentucky is the best defensive team in the Final Four, Wisconsin is the best offensive team, averaging 80 points in the tournament. Just like the Wildcats, this is the Badgers second straight trip to the Final Four, with Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Traeveon Jackson, and Josh Gasser all returning from that Final Four team. 

Sam Dekker went bonkers against Arizona in the Elite 8, scoring 27 points, 20 of them coming in the second half. During the tournament he is averaging 21 points a game while shooting 60% from the field. He is a matchup problem for anyone, and I'm not really sure how Kentucky is going to stop him. (AP Photo) 

Sam Dekker went bonkers against Arizona in the Elite 8, scoring 27 points, 20 of them coming in the second half. During the tournament he is averaging 21 points a game while shooting 60% from the field. He is a matchup problem for anyone, and I'm not really sure how Kentucky is going to stop him. (AP Photo) 

Last year, I think the Badgers were underdogs in the Final Four round, and even though they are going up against the overall favorite, I don't think we can consider them underdogs. They have the experience, the possible Player of the Year in Kaminsky, and to me, one of the best players in the country, Sam Dekker. 

Last year the Badgers lost to UK thanks to Aaron Harrison game winning trey ball, which I'm sure they have not forgot about. Zach Aguste of Notre Dame scored 20 points against the Wildcats' BIGS which should give Kaminsky great confidence going into this game. Kaminsky best attribute for this game is that he can always bring one of those trees outside of the paint because he can shoot the ball. Stretching the floor is a must against UK, along with shooting the rock effectively. 

Against Arizona in the Elite 8, the Badgers were 12-18 from the three point line. I'm not sure if they will be able to match that again vs. Kentucky, but it's not impossible. 


#1 Duke Blue Devils 

Road to the Final Four: 

  • 2nd round - #16 Robert Morris 85-56 
  • 3rd round - #8 San Diego State 68-49
  • Sweet 16 - #5 Utah 63-57
  • Elite 8 - #2 Gonzaga 66-52 

The Blue Devils are probably the quietest team in the Final Four and what I mean by quiet is that not much have been said about them, mainly because they did everything they were supposed to do. No one really gave the Blue Devils a scare, except for maybe Utah, but I never got the feeling they were going to lose the game. 

Justice Winslow in his hometown of Houston led the Blue Devils to another Final Four appearance, Coach K's 12th. While Tyus and Jahlil are the two household freshmen, sometime people forget how talented of a freshman Justice. (Getty Images) 

Justice Winslow in his hometown of Houston led the Blue Devils to another Final Four appearance, Coach K's 12th. While Tyus and Jahlil are the two household freshmen, sometime people forget how talented of a freshman Justice. (Getty Images) 

I actually think the Blue Devils could beat the Wildcats becuase they have the big man in the middle Jahlil Okafor. Jahalil dropped 21 and 26 in the first two games of the tournament but has only scored a combined 15 points in the last two games. Along with Kaminsky, I think Okafor can handle the four trees UK has in the paint because he has a post game. For some reason people want to say Karl Anthony Towns is the better player, but I don't see it and I like Towns. When it comes to footwork and fundamentals, Okafor is by far the better player. Towns has him beat on the defensive end, but I don't see him stopping Okafor when it matters. It will be fun to watch though, if it happens. 

Coach K will have his hands full preparing his team for Michigan State but it shouldn't be too hard. I thought this was one of the better Gonzaga teams they had in recent memory and Duke held them to 52 points and 44% shooting, both tournament lows for the Zags. If its a team that could match the Wildcats on talent, Duke is the one. Tyus Jones and Quin Cook are one of the best backcourts in the country and probably second to only the Harrison Twins. One thing they can't do is sleep on Michigan State. 


#7 Michigan State Spartans 

Road to the Final Four: 

  • 2nd round - #10 Georgia 70-63
  • 3rd round - #2 Virginia 60-54 
  • Sweet 16 - #3 Oklahoma 72-66 
  • Elite 8 - #4 Louisville 76-70 OT

The Spartans remind me of how UConn went through the tournament last year. Came into the tournament with low expectations from the outside world, defeated 3 higher seeds in the three straight games, and was the 7th seed. The more they won, the more people started to realize that it's not impossible for them to be in the Final Four, similar to UConn last year. Obviously they are the underdogs but they're not your typical underdog, mainly because of Tom Izzo 

Tom Izzo always makes his mark in the month of March. In 20 seasons at Michigan State, Izzo has reached the Sweet 16 thirteen times out of 18 tournament appearances. (AP/Post-Standard, Kevin Rivoli)

Tom Izzo always makes his mark in the month of March. In 20 seasons at Michigan State, Izzo has reached the Sweet 16 thirteen times out of 18 tournament appearances. (AP/Post-Standard, Kevin Rivoli)

This will be Tom Izzo's 7th trip to the Final Four since he became head coach at Michigan State back in 1995. I don't care what seed his team is, no matter what, Izzo will make sure his team is built and ready for the tournament. I don't like how people try to hop his wagon now that his team is in the Final Four because if you been paying attention, you would know this is nothing new. I said in our bracketology article, that the Spartans are sleepers but with Izzo coaching, don't count them out. Why? Because we go through this every year. 

Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Branden Dawson has become a very effective Big 3 this tournament, averaging a combined 44 points a game. Guard play is what wins in the tournament and these three guards together make it tough for any team. The one thing that I admire about this Spartan team is that they have made every team play their style of basketball, which is very physical. None of their games have been pretty nor an up and down battle. It will be interesting to see how they manage, being the smallest team in the Final Four, but it hasn't been an issue for them yet. 

Fan-I Bracketology: Midwest Region

It's finally that time of year again, the best time of the year in my opinion. After two weeks of some great conference tournaments, all 68 teams have been selected for the NCAA Tournament. Similar to last year, the Midwest region is the toughest of the four, also the #1 seed in this region walks in with 0 losses. 

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

I am very surprised that the NCAA Selection committee gave the Wildcats the toughest draw out of all of the #1 seeds, but for the sake of entertainment, I am happy that they did this. My guess is that, the committee thought in order to really find out if the Wildcats are the greatest team in college basketball history, put them in the toughest region. Usually the #1 overall seed gets the weakest of the regions but not this year. 

One thing I can say about the Wildcats is they have one of the toughest non-conference schedules. They faced and defeated 7 teams that are in this year NCAA Tournament, two of them being Buffalo and Kansas. Just in case you don't remember, Kentucky defeated the Jayhawks 72-40 in the Champions Classic back in November, which sparked the phenom that is Kentucky. 

Like I said though, this is a tough draw for the Wildcats, who are 6 games away from completing their pursuit on perfection. Purdue, who has two seven footers on their roster, Freshman Issac Haas and junior A.J Hammons give the Boilermakers a chance, matching the Wildcats size in the paint, but can Hammon and Haas match the intensity of Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, which I don't think they can. 

In the Sweet 16, Maryland or West Virginia could get an opportunity to end the Wildcats run, unless one of those are shocked in their 2nd round matchups. Maryland will face Valparaiso, who I think they should beat, while the Mountaineers will face Buffalo. Buffalo is the Mid-American Conference champs, entering the tournament 23-9. 6'7 forward, Justin Moss, who averages 18 points and 9 boards with 15 double-doubles this season, could pose a problem for the Mountaineers who struggle to score at times. I think Maryland will get that opportunity to meet the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 but it all depends on how well the Mountaineers can score and how the Terps react to the full court press of the Mountaineers 

In the bottom half of the region, the Kansas Jayhawks look to be the favorite but not for me. Kansas hasn't impressed me too much this season, especially in the final stretch, going 8-5 since February 1st.  People say that the Big 12 is the toughest conference in the country, reason why the committee blessed them with a #2 seed but I disagree with everything about this. For me, the ACC was the best conference this season, and Notre Dame, ACC Champs should have been the recipients of that #2 seed. I like the Irish to come out of this bottom half of the region. I think the Irish are set up perfectly for the tournament with great balance plus they beat Duke twice along with 6 other Tournament teams.

Wichita State is a very tough #7 seed. Their big 3 of Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton all have tournament experience and was apart of that 2012-13 team that made it to the Final Four. It's not to often you see a #7 seed with that kind of experience and only 4 losses. 

Sleepers

  • Buffalo Bulls, 23-9 MAC Champions - The Bulls won't be an easy win for whoever step on the court with them. They have a tournament type of player in Moss, along with Shannon Evans who averages 15 points a game. The Mountaineers will have to score some points in order to advance past the Bulls, who average 75 points a game (28th in the country). 
  • New Mexico State, 23-10 WAC Champions - The Jayhawks are very shaky and I don't trust them in the tournament this year. The Aggies, on the other hand, are on a 13 game win streak and have 4 players that score in double figures. I don't think the Jayhawks can afford to have an inconsistent outing against them. 
  • West Virginia Mountaineers, 23-9 - I think the Mountaineers are a sleeper because people don't think they can score efficiently enough to make a run in the dance. The thing about WVU is they play defense and use a full court press that could really irritate a few teams, and if they do start knocking down shots consistently, watch out. 

Players to Watch 

Potential Matchups 

  • #4 Maryland v. #5 West Virginia, Third Round - It will be fun to watch the guards of the Terps go against the guards of the Mountaineers. 
  • #7 Witchita State v. Kansas, Third Round - Both schools are representing the state of Kansas, which will back heading back home first? 
  • #1 Kentucky v. #4 Maryland, Sweet 16 - A lot of Maryland fans are upset about the Terps being in the same region as the overall number 1 seed but no matter what region you're in, the road to the Final Four is never easy. 
  • #1 Kentucky v. #3 Notre Dame, Elite 8 - If there is a team that could end the Wildcats pursuit, it's the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, who I think cause some matchup problems for Kentucky with their ability to spread the floor and shoot the rock.